Narrow Roads | Civil War | August 2016


Bob_Anton_Narrow_RoadIt was late June 1865.  The Civil war between the states had ended only two months earlier.  For just under 4 years, the Northern and Southern states had fought a vicious war of attrition that left many a dinner table lacking a father or son or uncle or brother.  But now the war was over and the warmth and beauty of an early summer day in Richmond, Virginia held great promise for healing and the rebirth of a nation.

The congregation that gathered that early Sunday  morning at St. Paul’s Episcopal church, had no idea of the part it was about to play as the United States of America began its’ struggle to come to grips with a new social order.  It was mid-way through the service when Rev. Dr. Charles Minnigerode concluded his sermon and proceeded to prepare the communion table for his congregation.  Just then, a well-dressed black man whom no one had seen before arose from the back of the church and proceeded down the aisle, taking a kneeling position at the alter rail.  Rev. Minnigerode was stunned by the appearance of a black man at the alter rail.  As long as St. Paul’s had offered Sunday Service, people of color were expected to take communion at the end of the service, only after all whites had received communion and returned to their seats.  Any black man who would have dared to presume to approach the alter rail out of turn would certainly have been removed from the church and jailed for his indiscretion.   But things were different on that late June morning.  The city of Richmond was under martial law.  The streets were teaming with Union Soldiers, many of whom were themselves black, and the church congregation of St. Paul’s was in the midst of a dilemma.

The good Rev. Minnigerode stood in frozen silence, uncertain what to do.  The congregation likewise was stunned.  They murmured among themselves at the site of this act of defiance.  Just then a stoic old gentlemen in the congregation arose to his feet.  He was a well-known figure, a man who acted with authority and demanded respect by his very presence.  That gentleman, still donned in his gray Confederate dress uniform slowly approached the front of St. Paul’s church.  The congregation waited impatiently, anticipating what was about to occur.  Surely this leader among men would know how to best deal with a situation such as this.   When the old gentleman reached the alter rail, every eye in the church was upon him.  Every eye except that of the black man who had already taken his place at the rail.  Then, without a word and to the surprise of many, the Elder simply kneeled adjacent to the black man and awaited to receive communion.  Following the lead of this beloved figure, the congregation of St. Paul’s rose to their feet and advanced to the alter rail.  The Rev. Minnigerode watched in silent relief as his congregation came forward.  He looked down at the black man before him, and then at the white haired gentleman kneeling besides him.  And so it was that Rev. Minnegerode presented communion that morning, to the congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, to a brave unknown black man and to a wise and noble General Robert E. Lee.

In just these past weeks, our Nation has seen tragedy upon tragedy. There are powerful forces at work that given free rein, would tear our country apart.  The battle for reconciliation between the races is ongoing.  It painfully advances, one skirmish at a time.  It may very well have begun in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the year 1865.  That unknown black man and General Robert E. Lee each took a great risk that Sunday morning.  One risked his reputation before family and friends. The other risked his very well-being.  Each of them chose a higher road.  To seek unity rather than further division.  To find common ground on which to communicate.  To lead rather than sit idly by and watch history unfold.  Together, they taught a congregation of individuals, a lesson in reconciliation and set an example for a nation to follow.

Today there are many things that divide the people of this great country.  Race is only one issue.  Politics, religion, economics and a variety of agendas and philosophies conspire to disrupt unity within the United States.  But motorcycling affords each of us the opportunity to meet on common ground.  In thirty years of riding I’ve seen a great deal of change.  The divisions that once existed among bikers have all but faded away.  With the exception of a few diehards, the majority of bikers today welcome anyone, of any color, on any bike to ride with them and enjoy this great sport together.  And that’s the way it should be.  Building bridges of unity on common ground is how we become strong and stay that way.  And so I put the question to you, Will you seek to build bridges on common ground or sit idly by as our Nation continues down a road of fragmentation?  Our country is in desperate need of leaders.  Bold people of noble character, who are willing to take risks.  How about you?

Before and during the War Between the States I was a Virginian.  After the war, I became an American.”  General Robert E. Lee

You think about that.

God Bless you and See you on the Road.

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